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Tropes: love ‘em or hate ‘em, they are the manifestation of archetypes that are embedded deep within our cultural psyche. They can reinforce false stereotypes, play to our deepest desires, and reflect the things we value most.
Many book bloggers have posted their thoughts and feelings on various tropes in fiction, so I thought I would do the same. Most of the tropes listed here are on someone’s “most-hated” list, but I don’t hate all of these tropes. In fact, some I really love.
Strong Female Characters & Action Girls
This is the age of the action girl. Hardly a woman on screen is seen without a sword/gun/intergalactic WMD in hand anymore. Okay, that may be just a slight exaggeration, but girls beating people up is definitely in. The way I see it, this is both a good and bad thing. Oftentimes, in movies anyway, female characters are no more well-developed than they were before; they’re just there to look good in spandex doing a high kick. But that’s certainly not always the case.
I am super excited to see the new Wonder Woman movie for just this reason. There’s more to Diana than her costume and combat prowess. She’s a complex human being with thoughts and feelings who also just happens to have superpowers. Lady Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings, Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games, and Hermione Granger in Harry Potter are all great examples of this trope. They are fully fleshed-out people who form relationships, mess up, and also kick ass.
So while I do think this trope can be misused to make a book/movie/TV show look “feminist” when it’s really just part of the female flesh factory, it can also be great if it’s done right.
Verdict: LOVE, with caveats.
Earlier this year I listened to the much-talked-about YA audiobook, The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon, about a teenage boy who meets and quickly falls in love with a girl who is about to be deported. It’s not my usual fare but the characters were well-drawn and it was okay. The love at first sight scenario, however, was not, is not, and will never be okay. Nor will it ever make sense to me.
It’s one thing to write about insta-lust, but the idea that two people could conceivably meet and realize they were “soul mates” (I use that term with great sarcasm) almost immediately is laughable, no matter how many times it’s written about or who writes about it. I’m talking to you, Shakespeare.
Insta-love is one of my most-hated tropes because it deprives the reader (and the writer) the chance to flesh out the messy human parts (i.e. not destiny, fate, providence) of building a relationship, which I think is the most interesting part.
The Chosen One
“The Chosen One” is frequently cited as a “most hated trope” by book bloggers but my feelings are a bit more complicated than that. Harry Potter is one of my favorite series of all time, if not my absolute favorite, and its main protagonist is the archetypal chosen one. I don’t think the story suffers from this device.
That said, I also have a deep appreciation for stories in which a common man/woman/child is responsible for saving the world. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings (also lifelong favorites) are perfect examples of this. Part of the magic of these stories is that hobbits are ordinary folk called to do extraordinary things, not because of any intrinsic quality they have but because some guy in a pointy hat decided it was a good idea. It makes for a compelling story.
I think that there is a little extra magic in a story with an “everyman” hero but I don’t care much one way or the other.
Verdict: OKAYHow I Feel About 'The Chosen One,' Love Triangles, + More Popular TropesClick To Tweet
Orphans vs. the World
So many heroes in children’s and YA fiction are orphans or, at the very least, have absent or neglectful parents. I am a long-time and unabashed fan of this trope for two reasons:
- It’s inspiring to read about someone who was not given a very good start in life succeed against the odds.
- Without parental oversight, orphans and kids with absent parents usually enjoy more freedom to do what they want and to have adventures. This was the main reason I, hyper-independent child that I was, loved this trope so much when I was a kid.
Good Girls Love Bad Boys or the Brooding Male Trope
We all know the story: magical good girl made of smiles and pixie dust falls in love with the broody dark-haired boy who needs to be coaxed out of his cynical shell. Another version, which makes up, like, 90% of the romance genre: the good (read: sexually inexperienced) girl falls for the bad (read: man slut) boy just needs a nice (read: “pure”) girl to tame him. Think Twilight and it’s more explicit counterpart, Fifty Shades of Grey. Think classic tales like Beauty and the Beast and Jane Eyre. (It should be noted that I love Jane Eyre, but I love it in spite of its use of this trope, not because of it. I also love Beauty and the Beast, but only because of THAT LIBRARY.)
I don’t think there is a trope in the world I hate more than this one, partly because I think it’s stupid, partly because I don’t understand it (not every girl actually likes bad boys, FYI), and partly because it’s just so darn prevalent. It is, I think, a not insignificant part of our culture.
I have a particular adoration for books that turn this trope on its head. One great example is The Hunger Games, in which Katniss is the broodier (though definitely not bad) half of the Katniss on Peeta sandwich. I also have a great appreciation for books that don’t play to this trope at all. Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is one of the best male characters I’ve seen in a long time and Tina Goldstein isn’t exactly a slouch either. It’s nice to see two people hit it off who are actually, you know, emotionally healthy.
Needless to say, I think the good girl/bad boy or friendly girl/broody boy trope needs to be permanently binned.
The Love Triangle
The love triangle is a frequently-cited “most hated” trope and I imagine that if I read YA romance on a regular basis, I would hate it too. But think about it–some of the greatest novels of all time feature love triangles. Gone with the Wind, Anna Karenina, Wuthering Heights–where would the world be without these?
Granted, love triangles can be horribly cringe-worthy. Twilight is the ultimate example of this. Of course, Twilight is an example of almost everything gone wrong in literature. That said, I can get on board with a good love triangle if it’s done right.
Verdict: OKAY, if done properly.
So, what do you think about these popular tropes? Leave a comment below!